A viewer's reaction to Pan, the Joe Wright-directed origin story of how an orphan in WWII-era London became the legendary Peter Pan, will likely depend on his or her age. Kids -- and those who are kids at heart -- will probably relish the truly bizarre phantasmagoria on display, while more discerning moviegoers will be appalled by its lack of originality, unsettling tonal shifts, mysterious musical choices, and scenery-chewing acting. In other words, there's something here for everyone to praise or pick apart.
Pan begins with a distraught woman (Amanda Seyfried) leaving her baby Peter in a basket outside of a London orphanage. We then flash forward a dozen years: The Nazis are relentlessly bombing the city, and the mischievous lad (played by wonderful newcomer Levi Miller) is investigating why some boys in the orphanage suddenly go missing during the night, and whether the disappearances are linked to a bevy of gold coins being hoarded by cruel caretaker Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke), who runs the Dickensian institution with an iron fist and a steely heart. He soon finds out. Mother raises the Jolly Roger and pirates swoop down on bungee-like ropes to snatch him and several other boys out of their beds; they are whisked away in a floating buccaneer ship to Neverland, where they join hundreds of other boys and men in digging for fairy dust in a mining camp at the behest of Blackbeard (a hammy but effective Hugh Jackman). The notorious pirate, it turns out, inhales the stuff in order to retain his youthful appearance.
"Here we are now, entertain us," Blackbeard sings, along with his fellow pirates, when he makes his first appearance hoisted high above the enslaved assemblage on his airship. (It remains a mystery why the characters in a 1940s-era nonmusical story are singing Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" -- or later, the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" -- and that's only one of many jarring and questionable choices by the filmmakers.) Peter is soon brought before Blackbeard for a minor offense, and is forced to walk the plank into a rocky abyss. But when he steps off, he begins to fly instead of falling to his death. Blackbeard immediately realizes that Peter is the chosen one of prophecy, a messiah-like figure who can fly, was born of a fairy prince and a human mother, and who will one day rise up and defeat him. Peter is imprisoned, but he eventually escapes with the help of wisecracking fellow miner James Hook (Garrett Hedlund, desperately trying -- and failing -- to channel Harrison Ford as both Indiana Jones and Han Solo) and bumbling buddy Smee (Adeel Akhtar). The trio hijack one of Blackbeard's ships and quickly crash-land in a wooded area occupied by Neverland natives, who are enemies of Blackbeard and are also awaiting the arrival of the chosen one. The ethnically diverse community (their multicultural vibe might have been a way to justify having the Caucasian Rooney Mara play the originally Native American Tiger Lily) take in the escapees, and together they work to bring down Blackbeard.
Curiously for an origin story, there isn't an original idea anywhere to be found on Pan's bloated canvas. Screenwriter Jason Fuchs steals liberally from Dickens, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Avatar, and utilizes tired themes (a hero who doesn't realize his true destiny, to name just one example) to spin a new tale out of recycled parts. Wright does generate some arresting action sequences, especially in the film's final showdown with Blackbeard, but they aren't enough to lift the movie out of its sullen state. Younger viewers, however, will likely be absolutely delighted by all of the onscreen derring-do and impressive CGI work, which includes a massive crocodile out to consume our heroes. Pan is never boring and families who flock to it will be entertained, but it's still a shipwreck of jumbled ideas that never quite pan out.